Via Mollie Wohlforth
June 28, 2022
At the start of June, sixteen practicing architects and students from around the globe traveled to Edinburgh to attend this year's Christopher H. Browne Drawing Tour, the first iteration of the program to be held in the city. For seven days, the group explored Edinburgh’s 18th- and 19th-century architecture through drawing, spending mornings tucked into the corners of William Playfair’s Library at The University of Edinburgh’s Old College with sketchbooks in hand, afternoons measuring the scrolls and columns at Thomas Hamilton’s Dean Gallery, and evenings watercoloring the brilliant sunset over Calton Hill. Under the instruction of George Saumarez Smith, assisted by Martin Burns, this group produced hundreds of sketches, wash renderings, and drawings in situ to create a visually-stunning record of the city’s neoclassical architectural treasures. Below, read reflections from participants on their takeaways from this remarkable trip.
Sunset drawing at Calton Hill with participant Nathan Walz
My biggest takeaway from this course was the importance of composition in sketching and measured drawing as a means to better communicate the subject both to myself and to the viewer. Sitting with the subject for a while and mentally mapping out which elements are in shade and shadow, what pieces of the environment can I incorporate, and what do I want the viewer’s attention to be directed to, all result in richer and more communicative field drawings.
Both Marty and George are masters of composition and were excellent teachers and communicators. Their guidance and course structure was critical to the vast improvements in both our drawing and observational skills we gained in just a week. The focus on select pieces from Greek Revival architecture of early 19th century Edinburgh enabled us to observe and compare nuances between the selected buildings which resulted in the heightened understanding and appreciation of the classical language reflected in our drawings. Seeing how much our skills improved over the span of just a week inspires me to continue to hone this craft and hopefully teach this course myself one day.
Throughout this course, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn several new drawing techniques from the instructors and my peers. I ended up falling in love with conte pencils, which were a medium I had never used prior to the afternoon we spent drawing in front of the Robert Burns Memorial. That afternoon, Marty also talked us through a tutorial on his technique for drawing trees, which really brought the architectural elements in that sketch to life. That may have ended up being my favorite sketch of the entire trip! I also chose the conte pencil medium for sketching at St Bernard’s Well on our last day of the course, and that would be a close second.
The other elements of the course I most appreciated were the exercises in measured drawing. These drawings are the most graphically incomplete in my sketchbook from this course, but are also the ones I am most looking forward to finishing. The process of documenting our chosen subjects - with rough sketches, outstretched arms, tape measures, and pages filled with quickly transcribed dimensions – was incredibly engaging and outright fun! The first exercise, at the Calton Hill burial grounds, I chose a simple and elegant headstone of a bookseller in Edinburgh from 1842, which is the most complete in my sketchbook at this point. I am looking forward to going back in to complete my comparison of lamp standards and drawings of the large scrolls at the National Gallery of Modern Art.
One of the best ways to connect with and understand buildings of any great city is to take time and draw them. That is exactly what we did in Edinburgh, Scotland, with emphasis on the city’s medieval architectural inception to its explosive industrial growth that led to one of the best examples of historically recent urbanization. Littered with views of the sea, monuments, castles, and spires, everywhere we turned there was a view to something special. Learning how to capture one of these scenes was the best skill I gathered from the drawing tour. It’s very easy to simply rely on photography to remember a place. It is much harder, but much more fulfilling to create that picture with your own hand.
My favorite part of the tour was the pencil drawings of the Signet and Playfair libraries. It was an exercise I felt comfortable with, but also was able to greatly improve my skill at plein air sketching. This trip was an amazing experience, and I want to express my utmost gratitude to the scholarship donors for giving me the opportunity to learn and further hone my skills as an aspiring architect.
The joy of seeing and drawing historic cities with a group of fellow architects and architecture fanatics is a pretty unparalleled feeling. Being able to point out beautiful details to each other and relish in our mutual enthusiasm was enabled by the architectural glory of Edinburgh and echoed in the evident passion of our instructors. As enjoyable as it was to actively measure, draw, and paint together, what I enjoyed most was the in-between moments of sharing what we made and learned while walking from one site to another. Edinburgh is easy to fall in love with, and full of surprising turns and hills, turrets of every size and shape, and some of the best stone textures I’ve ever touched—but every one of us pointed out slightly different things. I never would have noticed some of the window details had they not been enthusiastically gestured to by someone else, nor would I have learned the history behind them without our instructors. I likely would not have thought to measure or draw some of the things that my tour-mates chose to prioritize, and certainly not experimented with as wide a variety of media and techniques. Seeing such an intricate and historic city through nineteen different pairs of eyes made this trip a much deeper, richer experience than any solo journey could have been.
Everyday in Edinburgh was such an adventure. My favorite experience on the trip came on our penultimate day while doing a measured drawing of a scroll designed by Thomas Hamilton. It was one of my goals at the start of the trip to understand and become fluent in measured drawings. This type of drawing has been elusive to my sketchbook and wanted to focus my efforts on the precision and information gathering this form of drawing requires. As George, our instructor has a passion for measured drawings with a recent book mostly dedicated to it, we were given the unique pleasure and opportunity to learn from one of the best. The working of the scroll drawing that afternoon was most definitely a test. As I came to the conclusion of the drawing, I was pleasantly surprised at the improvement of both myself over the week and everyone who produced stellar drawings.
I wish to join another drawing tour, to see parts of the world unknown to me, and take in the work done by the masters of past generations only hoping to one day contribute to the world of architecture in a lasting and positive light.
This trip opened so many doors to me. I was able to meet other architecture enthusiasts from all over the world and I strengthened my drawing and painting skills while learning from some amazing instructors. It was truly special to study a foreign city that has so much history and so many successes in urban design and historical preservation. I have studied so many pictures and drawings of buildings and it was amazing to actually tour and physically be in these exquisite works of architecture.
My favorite day included drawing the inner courtyard at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Robert Burns Monument. It may be that this was my favorite day because it was warm and the sun actually came out, or because it was a successful day of sketching for me. I felt that I was able to use several of the past lessons and exercises from the first half of the week to compose drawings that I was proud of. I used a new medium for the Burns Monument, which was challenging but rewarding.
I also really enjoyed just exploring the city and seeing buildings off the beaten path. My knowledge in architecture has been forever enriched by this trip. I strengthened my foundation of drawing and sketching and this opportunity has given me more tools to continue to grow as an architect and an artist. I am grateful for the instructors. I am grateful for the amazing buildings we were able to tour. And I am extremely grateful for the scholarship that made it possible for me to have this rich experience, to learn and to grow.
I recently completed my master’s degree in architecture and was so honored to receive
a scholarship that allowed me to participate in this amazing and intensive week of drawing. I
had hoped to gain a greater understanding as to how the human person relates to the built
environment, and I was truly surprised just how intentionally the human experience was designed
into Edinburgh. There were so many great days in which great lessons of architecture and
drawing were learned, but one day (and even a particular drawing) come to mind as a personal
favorite. Towards the latter part of the week, we ventured out on a chilly morning to spend the
day drawing the Scottish Galleries of Modern Art. These are two
classically-conceived buildings that were both originally built and established as orphanages, and
each include beautiful grounds that are integrated into the design of the building.
While on the
lawn of the second gallery, the Dean Gallery, I had decided to watercolor the building and
landscape before me. At the moment I completed the painting, I realized that I had used each thing
I had learned during the week and really incorporated those lessons into the painting. Essentially, I felt I effectively captured the essence of the building. Mr.
George Saumarez Smith was such an excellent teacher and mentor, and already I have been
stopping and drawing more now that I am back in the states. Thank you so much for your
generous support of myself and other young lovers of the classical tradition!
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